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How to Treat and Prevent Heat Exhaustion

heat_exhaustionHeat-related illness can be life threatening, because the human body cools itself through the evaporation of sweat. When humidity and heat are high, sweat will not evaporate as fast, which prevents the body from releasing heat quickly. Dehydration can be a complicating factor, causing body temperature to rise rapidly. Other factors include age, obesity, heart disease, poor circulation and sunburn.

Heat stroke is the most severe of the heat-related illnesses and requires immediate medical attention. High body temperatures can lead to brain damage or damage of other vital organs. Signs and symptoms include difficulty breathing, headache, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, loss of coordination, confusion and seizures — and treatment is needed immediately.

If you notice someone suffering from heat stroke, here’s what to do:

  • Get the person indoors or to a cooler outdoor area.
  • Remove any restrictive clothing.
  • If possible, place the person in a cool water bath or shower. You can also use ice packs to cool the armpits, neck and groin.
  • Give him or her cold fluids to drink and continue to monitor body temperature until it is less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat exhaustion presents in a much similar fashion. It is the result of an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat, usually as a result of working or exercising in a hot environment. The body temperature may be normal or slightly elevated, and the pulse may be rapid and weak. Symptoms may be minor, but if left untreated and heat exposure continues, they can progress to heat stroke.

In addition to the cooling methods mentioned above, eating salty snacks can help replace the sodium lost through sweating. Seek medical attention if the symptoms are severe, become worse, last longer than one hour, or if there are any underlying medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.

The best treatment is prevention. During heat exposure, drink two to four glasses of cool fluids every hour. Regardless of activity, drink more than thirst indicates. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can cause more fluid loss. In the presence of heavy sweating, replace salts and minerals through diet. Wear light-colored lightweight clothing and avoid hot foods and heavy meals.

If you travel to a warm area for a new job, you need time for your body to get used to the heat. Be extra careful for the first two weeks to allow yourself time to adjust. Stay cool and stay well!

Source: Mayo Clinic

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